Layne and Judy Coon are great examples of accepting others. I lived next door to them for sixteen years and also worked with Judy at Zion’s Bank for three of those years. I know Judy as a co-worker as well as a neighbor. I can’t think of another person I know who’s better at accepting others. Maybe it comes naturally to Judy because of her brother, Ricky, who had Down syndrome, Autism and Alzheimer’s. She was Ricky’s primary caregiver for the last sixteen years of his life. Some of those years she was still raising three children. She also helped raise my two children. Our son, Christopher, was best friends with their youngest, Tony. Our daughter, Katie, often played with their older daughter, Becky. When our accident happened, Judy was there for our children after school and whenever needed. Through it all, she had the love and support of her husband, Layne. The two of them are angels among us and can be seen with smiles because of the love and service they give to all.
I learned from them that accepting our situation would allow us to feel joy. By focusing on the positive, we can make the best of any circumstances. Tim Gray wrote a wonderful story about Ricky in 2010, a year before he passed away. Some of it was published last Sunday and this is more of the story.
Judy says she learned patience through her childhood interactions with Ricky. “I think it’s natural for a child to be patient with another child who has problems. It’s just automatic now.”
Judy discovered the best way to help Ricky from watching her parents. Ricky was extremely stubborn and her father was strict with him, but her mother found a better way to reach him. “My mom learned that all she had to do was put her arms around him and love him and he would melt. Ricky would do anything mom asked,“ Judy said. Ricky can often be seen extending both arms out to people, motioning for a hug. Never a hugger, Judy learned to be one for Ricky.
Like most people, Ricky has good days and bad days. The difference is with Alzheimer’s, Ricky’s bad days are beginning to increase. On a good day, Ricky’s facial expressions and gestures are often like a joyful child pleased with something they did. He can’t wait to show what he’s accomplished to anyone in sight, especially Judy. On a bad day, Ricky looks worn out and perhaps just wants to be left alone. Sometimes he cries quietly with a look of inconsolable confusion on his rapidly aging face. Each time Ricky finds Judy all is well again.
Ricky enjoyed doing dishes for Judy. “He would take dishes out of the dishwasher and put them away. But, as his Alzheimer’s has gotten worse, the results were mixed. Ricky started taking cups off the counter that were dirty and putting them away. We started watching for dirty cups and stuff,” Judy says laughing, even though she knows it’s not funny.
“When Ricky was a boy, he could walk for miles and find his way home. He had a really good sense of direction. But now, Ricky has a hard time finding his way to the bathroom and at home he started asking permission to go to the bathroom.” Judy says.
Some interesting facts Tim Gray included in his story:
Down syndrome occurs in approximately 1 in 800 live births, according to the National Association for Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome have 47 chromosomes instead of the normal 46. Characteristics include low muscle tone, a slightly flattened facial profile, and an upward slant of the eyes. Roughly 40 percent of children with Down syndrome have congenital heart defects.
Alzheimer’s affects 50 to 70 percent of individuals with Down syndrome by the time they reach 60 years old, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The progression of Alzheimer’s in those with Down syndrome takes approximately 8 years, with symptoms so slight it can go unnoticed for years. The average life expectancy for people with Down syndrome is 55 years old.
Autism is characterized by a lack of development in social interaction, language, and behavioral issues, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with Autism often retreat into their own world. They may also repeat words or phrases without understanding how to use them. Behavioral issues sometimes include performing repetitive motions such as rocking, spinning, or hand flapping.
I want to follow Judy and Layne’s example of accepting others. By doing so, one finds joy and can see the true beauty in every person.